Why you should add five-star Tel Aviv luxury to your Birthright trip to Israel

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This year, I took a trip that broadened my horizons, and left me feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, when I journeyed to Israel in August with my best friend for Birthright.

For those who don’t know, Birthright is a free 10-day trip to Israel for those with Jewish ancestry. The trip is typically open to anyone ages 18 to 26, but in the last few years, it has been open to individuals aged 27 to 32.

The experience was truly life changing, as it allowed us to connect with Israel’s culture and religion, while exploring destinations from Masada, on the edge of the Judean desert, to Tzfat, the city of mysticism.

However, after beginning the trip in Tel Aviv, we knew within hours that we needed to spend more time in the city, beyond the days included in the Birthright experience. So, after little hesitation, we called our airline to push back our return flight by four days.

As for what we planned to do with the four days of freedom we had in Tel Aviv after a nearly nonstop 10-day Birthright itinerary, we agreed that what we wanted was luxury. From five-star hotels to unforgettable meals, this is how we spent a weekend enjoying some of the luxury Tel Aviv has to offer.

If you’ve ever been to the Mediterranean, you’ll know just how soothingly calm the sea can be, and how stunning the beaches that surround it are. With the memory from our brief time in Tel Aviv acting as our guide, we knew that the beaches we’d encountered two weeks earlier would be our first destination.

With a leisurely day at the beach in mind, we spent our first night at The David Kempinski hotel, a newly opened five-star hotel located on the Tel Aviv Promenade.

We arrived at The Kempinski hotel late on the last day of August, after saying goodbye to the friends we’d made on our tour of Israel. Upon our arrival, the concierge – dressed in a top hat – greeted us at our taxi before ushering us to the lobby.

The lobby is expansive and boasts gorgeous views and stunning floral arrangements everywhere you look, with multiple tables dedicated solely to displaying exotic looking flowers. The decor also manages to combine understated luxury with an easygoing, welcoming vibe, with the lobby featuring a bar set off to one side, and a seating area with various comfortable couches.

The hotel was filled with floral arrangements

(Chelsea Ritschel)

After we checked in, we accepted the offer of a quick tour of the Executive Horizon Lounge, which would be included in our stay. Access to the Executive Horizon Lounge is included for guests who stay in certain deluxe rooms and suites.

The Executive Horizon Lounge is a welcome luxury

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We were handed champagne during a tour of the lounge

(Chelsea Ritschel)

Any tiredness we felt immediately drained away when we were handed a glass of champagne, and informed that access to the lounge included alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks, and various food offerings throughout the day.

Even at night, the views from the lounge of the beach below were stunning, and left us eager to spend at least a portion of the following day inside enjoying the lounge’s various offerings.

From there, we were shown to our room. If you’ve stayed in a luxury hotel before, you’ll recall the unsuppressable glee you feel upon entering a truly over-the-top hotel room. The Kempinski spared no expense when it came to its rooms.

Our first stop was the oversize bathroom, which featured a huge shower and separate bathtub, as well as an uninterrupted view of the city of Tel Aviv, and a glimmer of the Mediterranean sea. We then passed the spacious bedroom, followed by a comfortably large sitting room decorated with couches, a chair, a desk and a minibar.

The living room at the David Kempinski hotel

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The room included a mini bar and various snacks

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The view from our hotel room at the David Kempinski Hotel

(Chelsea Ritschel)

After a few nights sharing a room on a Kibbutz, we were ecstatic with the amount of space.

The joy only grew when we began taking in the smaller, although equally impressive details, such as a David Kempinski beach bag, which was stocked with a reusable water bottle and a bottle of sunscreen.

We received a beach bag from the hotel, which included sunscreen and a reusable water bottle

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The view from our room at night

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The bathroom also included views of the city of Tel Aviv

(Chelsea Ritschel)

But the best part of the hotel, and its rooms, are the views, as the suite offers some of the most incredible views of Tel Aviv, with the floor-to-ceiling windows in the sitting room and the bedroom allowing us to see from the beach all the way to the glittering skyline of the city. The view from the bedroom, especially, will stick with us.

It is worth noting that we did encounter one struggle during our night at The Kempinski, when we found we couldn’t work out the lighting without some trial and error. The lighting, which the hotel describes as “thoughtful technology,” is controlled by switches placed intermittently throughout the rooms, which meant we ended up trying all the lights before we were able to figure out which one lit up the bathroom.

After a non-stop, activity-filled 10 days in Israel, we slept more soundly than we had in a long time in the comfortable beds.

The view from our room in the morning

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We could see an uninterrupted view of the beach from our hotel room

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The next morning we woke up early, eager to take in the amenities in the Executive Lounge. However, we also wanted to make sure we enjoyed the proximity to the beach, and used the pool on the third floor, so we packed our new beach bag and took off for the lounge.

We made a brief stop at the pool, which was completely empty apart from a few hotel employees around 8am, just to take photos of the view.

The pool at the David Kempinski

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The pool was completely empty at 9am

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We couldn’t help but take photos of the pool deck

(Chelsea Ritschel)

If you were to close your eyes and imagine what a pool should look like at a five-star hotel, you’d probably come up with an image close to The Kempinski. We couldn’t help but let our inner Instagram influencer out as we staged our beach bag on the white lounge chairs and took countless pictures of both the pool and the empty early morning beach.

Once we’d gotten our fill of the pool, for the time being, we made our way up to the lounge via the impressive glass elevators.

At a quarter to 9am, it was nearly empty in the lounge except for one other guest, which meant we were free to help ourselves to mimosas and several courses from the breakfast buffet.

The lounge includes access to drinks and food

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The views from the lounge were also incredible

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The lounge includes a stocked bar

(Chelsea Ritschel)

In addition to providing nearly any beverage you could want, thanks to a fully stocked bar and various machines for making caffeinated drinks, the lounge is gorgeous, with the outdoor deck making it appear as if you are dining on the edge of the Mediterranean. The result is enviable social media-worthy content.

We enjoyed breakfast outside on the lounge deck

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We enjoyed mimosas and coffee as we sat outside on the lounge deck

(Chelsea Ritschel)

It was tourist season in Tel Aviv, but you wouldn’t have known it by the pool, as we were joined by just two other guests when we returned at 10.30am.

Once we’d settled in on towel-covered lounge chairs with our newspapers of choice, we swam, drank pina coladas, and came to the conclusion that The David Kempsinki hotel is one of the nicest hotels we’ve ever stayed at.

The pool was nearly empty both times we visited

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We enjoyed pina coladas poolside

(Chelsea Ritschel)

At some point in the afternoon, we decided to take a dip in the Mediterranean. While the hotel is nearly on the beach, it does not have private access to the shoreline, so we had to take a quick trip across the road to get to the sea.

We didn’t mind, as we spent the next few hours frolicing happily in the water on what was also a surprisingly empty stretch of shore. Although the hotel does not own the beach in front of it, we found that this strip of sand and sea gives off the same luxurious feel we’d found inside the hotel premises.

The view of the beach from inside the Kempinski hotel

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The beach across from the hotel was empty early on in the day

(Chelsea Ritschel)

Although we’d have liked to spend the next three days alternating between The Kempinski’s lounge, pool and beach, we had a lot of Tel Aviv to enjoy, so we packed up and returned back to the hotel for an easily accommodated late checkout.

As the goal of the trip was luxury and relaxation after a hectically paced Birthright schedule, our next stop was at Tim Thai Massage for traditional Thai massages, which we hoped would rid us of tension we’d accumulated from hours sitting on a bus.

Massages at Tim Thai Massage were just what we needed

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The spa was small but welcoming, and we found ourselves relaxing immediately upon entering. We were also lucky enough to meet the owner, Boaz, who greeted us like family and made sure we had everything we needed.

After checking in for our 2pm massages, we were shown to a joint room, where we spent the next 60 minutes being blissfully kneaded. It was one of those massages so relaxing that you feel like you may fall asleep, but so enjoyable that you make sure you stay awake to enjoy every minute.

We tried countless whisky variations during our tour

(Chelsea Ritschel)

This is the only whisky distillery in Israel

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We’d successfully entered into vacation mode after our massages, so we decided to celebrate with a tour of Milk and Honey whisky distillery, the only whisky distillery in Israel.

As you’d imagine, the next two hours passed in a whisky haze as we tried variations and creations from numerous barrels. Our guide, Sigal Tweig, Milk and Honey’s brand manager, was knowledgeable and personable, and we concluded the tour significantly more informed about whisky. For example, we know now that whisky shouldn’t be enjoyed over ice, but rather with just a few drops of water. We also left with our arms full of alcohol, as we couldn’t leave without purchasing several bottles, including a pomegranate-flavoured spirit.

If you prefer your vacations to be more about exploring a culturally diverse destination, and less about lounging on the beach, the next hotel on our list is worth a visit. For our second night, we checked into The Drisco, a stunning boutique hotel located in the heart of the 1866 American German colony in Tel Aviv.

We spent the night at The Drisco hotel

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The boutique hotel is in the heart of the former American German colony

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The Drisco is the perfect boutique hotel

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The facade of the picturesque building called for numerous pictures, as did the inside of the hotel, which is decorated in an art deco-esque style complete with funky blue glass chandeliers.

After checking in, during which we and three other guests commented on the fragrance of the hotel, which happens to be a signature scent, we were shown to our room.

The room was simple but beautiful, and decorated in the same boutique hotel style as the lobby. Although much smaller than The Kempinski, the accommodations were equally as luxurious, with the room and bathroom decorated in muted marbles and patterned tiles.

The room at The Drisco was simple but luxurious

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The decor inside the boutique hotel is gorgeous

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The rooftop at The Drisco

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The somewhat hectic schedule of our relaxing day caught up with us, so we decided to check out the quaint hotel rooftop before having dinner in the hotel, at acclaimed restaurant George & John.

On a Thursday evening, the restaurant was bustling, with each table booked. However, it didn’t impact our service, which was impeccable, nor the food.

For dinner, we chose to forgo alcohol, as we’d had our fill at the whisky distillery. However, what we didn’t indulge in in wine, we made up for in food, with our table soon filled with several courses, including oyster Gillardeau, cucumber and melon carpaccio, tuna tartare, George & John Crab pasta, and a vegan cashew & za’atar ‘cheese’ tortellini.

We enjoyed dinner at the restaurant inside the hotel

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We had dinner at George & John Restaurant inside The Drisco

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We woke up feeling refreshed, albeit slightly hungover, so we decided to take the hotel up on its complimentary breakfast.

For those who have preconceived notions about complimentary hotel breakfasts, and the oftentimes sad options, we must clarify that the breakfast at the Drisco is not that. We were seated outside, and were pleasantly surprised by the various accompaniments brought over by our waiter even before we’d ordered our shakshuka.

We enjoyed the complimentary breakfast at The Drisco

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The meals at The Drisco were delicious

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The salon at The Drisco Hotel

(Chelsea Ritschel)

After the meal, we were able to accompany hotel manager Hezi Talay and several other guests on a brief tour of the hotel, which included the Mark Twain Salon, decorated in Munich-inspired artwork. Hezi then walked us around the neighbourhood, where he gave us a rundown of the history of the area. It was interesting, and we’d recommend it if you have a few spare moments during your stay.

Once we’d checked out, we made our way to another part of Tel Aviv to check in at our final hotel, the Theodor Tel Aviv. After we arrived via cab, we were happy to find the hotel was nearby our favourite Tel Aviv bar, Kuli Alma.

The clubby bar isn’t the only must-visit spot near the Theodor hotel, as the boutique hotel is within walking distance to most Tel Aviv hot spots, including Herzl 16, Sputnik Bar, and Teder.

If you want to enjoy Tel Aviv’s nightlife, which is truly an experience worth having, the Theodor hotel is the place to stay.

However, even those who aren’t interested in the bars will find the location of the boutique hotel enjoyable and convenient, as it is surrounded by numerous restaurants, coffee shops and shops due to the proximity to Rothschild Boulevard.

The location is also unbeatable due to the proximity to the Carmel Market, the must-see shopping destination in Tel Aviv, where hundreds of vendors pack the market with stands selling everything from dried fruit to spices.

Although the hotel is set deeper into the city, the beach is still just a 15-minute walk away. After wandering around the city, and strolling through Carmel Market, we walked to the closest beach for a dip in the sea.

We found the nearest shoreline was undeniably busier than the beach in front of The Kempinski hotel, and had a more family-oriented vibe to it. However, the beach and the sea were still the perfect reprieve from the 100F-plus temperature.

Our stay ended on the highest note imaginable, with dinner at Hotel Montefiore, which happened to be an eight-minute walk from the Theodor.

Upon our arrival at 8pm, we were seated on one side of a table for two, which amused us at first but also allowed us a perfect view of the gorgeous restaurant.

We were seated next to each other at the Hotel Montefiore restaurant

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The oysters at the Montefiore restaurant were a highlight

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We ordered the beef tartare at Hotel Montefiore restaurant

(Chelsea Ritschel)

From our first glance at the menu, we had a feeling that the restaurant, which curates a French and Vietnamese fusion, would be special. But nothing could have prepared us for the meal, which we agreed was easily the best we’ve ever had.

We started dinner off with miniature baguettes, before splurging on just two Huitres Gillardeau oysters, priced at 34 shekels ($10) each.

From there, we indulged in appetisers including a Vietnamese beef tartare and a hamachi crudo in yuzu. Both appetiser dishes were unbelievable, and set the bar high for the rest of the meal.

Every dish was better than the last at Hotel Montefiore restaurant

(Chelsea Ritschel)

We agreed that this was our favourite meal of the trip

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The beef with foie gras was one of our favourite dishes at Hotel Montefiore restaurant

(Chelsea Ritschel)

The chefs managed to meet that bar, and exceed it, however, as our next courses were even more memorable. For our mains, we ordered the tom yum shrimp with bok choy, the crispy chicken with coriander and five spices, and the beef with foie gras.

Each dish ended up being better than the one before, with the meal culminating in the incredibly rich pairing of the beef and foie gras, where each bite was like butter.

As expected, we were satisfied and extremely full at the end of the meal, so decided to decline our waiter’s offer of dessert.

The dessert was also a highlight of the meal

(Chelsea Ritschel)

To our surprise, and joy, he didn’t take no for an answer, as a lemon coconut panna cotta arrived shortly later. It was one of the best desserts we’ve ever had, and ended up being a highlight of what was alreadly an incredible meals.

As we finished the last of our wine, we decided it would be worth returning to Israel for a meal at the Montefiore hotel restaurant alone.

We returned to New York the next day with incredible memories and many bottles of whisky, and with our thoughts only on the next time we can return to Tel Aviv.

It is difficult to sum up just how special Tel Aviv is, as it is unlike any place we’ve ever visited before, from the beaches that rival Greece to a nightlife that actually fulfils New York City’s promise of a city that never sleeps.

It is also impossible to talk about Tel Aviv without acknowledging the ways in which the city’s historical significance saturates everything from its restaurants and architecture to the must-see markets.

Overall, we’d recommend Birthright to anyone eligible to go, and a trip to Tel Aviv to anyone looking for the perfect vacation, as it’s a city you can’t help but love.

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